Playing faster - brick wall, or plateau?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by project_c, Dec 29, 2017.

  1. project_c


    May 8, 2008
    London, UK
    Been listening to a lot of fast jazz guys recently (like Jeff Andrews for example) and getting inspired to focus a bit more on my 16th note technique. These guys are firing off complex 16th note sequences at around 135bpm, in some cases on just a 4 string p-bass, nothing fancy, and they're digging in hard, no shortcuts or polite string stroking.

    I know this has been covered endlessly, so I'm hoping for some new ideas. I know most of the accepted 'traditional' approaches for increasing speed:
    - transcribe and learn solos
    - start slow and work your way up, focus on clean notes
    - play closer to the bridge
    - play with a lighter touch (although does not apply in this case)
    - floating thumb / moving anchor
    - low action / good setup etc

    This is how I've been practicing ever since I began playing something like 9 years ago. These techniques do work, but only up to a point. I notice that on complex 16th note runs - ie not just a quick 16th note bar here and there), I hit a wall around 108bpm, and after that things get sloppy.

    So are there any other techniques or interesting new approaches for increasing speed other than the stuff above we all already know about? Or is it just a case of carrying on patiently? Have I hit a brick wall, or is it just a plateau?
  2. Hal said you can not play fast if you can not listen fast. You have to hear each note. If you can not hear each note you get lost in the mix and rubbish happens. Slow down until you can hear each note. Then speed up.

    Long story short; you can not play faster than you can hear.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2017
    AGCurry, bkbirge, frEQ and 4 others like this.
  3. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    As you've noticed, the problem often isn't that you can't play fast enough, but rather that you can't maintain that speed over long stretches. Here's a trick I picked up somewhere that allows you to practice at tempo while building the necessary stamina: Once you've practiced the line slowly until you have all the notes down, start playing it at tempo (maybe along with a recording) but systematically leave out some notes to give yourself brief rests. For example, if each bar has a full complement of 16th notes, play the first 12 of them -- but then replace the last four with a single quarter note. Then do the same with the next bar, etc. Or, if you can play three full bars at tempo before you start to break down, do that and replace the fourth bar with a pair of half notes or four quarter notes. You get the idea: There are an infinite number of ways to do it, so just find a variation that inserts just enough rests for you to be able to play everything else cleanly. Then, over time, gradually decrease the frequency or length of the rests, until you can get through the whole tune at tempo.
    AGCurry likes this.
  4. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Gold Supporting Member

    i vote plateau.

    IMO: impatience is the enemy of practice, practice, practice! ;)
  5. project_c


    May 8, 2008
    London, UK
    Great suggestion, I've been trying something similar to this over the past few days actually, and it's working, but instead of leaving notes out i've been focusing on the parts I'm messing up and practicing them in isolation, going slow to actual tempo. I'll try your method, I think it will work better.
    Lobster11 likes this.
  6. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Here's another variation on the theme -- i.e., another way to practice at tempo rather than slowly -- that you might try for working on a particularly difficult riff or other relatively short bit. (This one is from Scott Devine.) Start out by practicing just the first, say, four notes of the riff, or however much of the riff you can already play perfectly without trouble; then, practice playing the first five notes of the riff at tempo, then the first six notes, etc., until you have the whole thing down.

    Lemme know how it works for you!
    project_c likes this.
  7. thewildest


    May 25, 2011
    Florida, USA
    Carl Sagan said “a googolplex is as far from infinity as is the number 1, no matter what number you have in mind, infinity is larger still”

    This Astrophysical reference to point out that “fast” is quite a subjective thing, and it depends on the point of reference, how much you can sustain it, what you play and when.

    At the end lf the day, once you reached a plateau you have to start investigating how to improve your economy of motion; perfect your posture, lower your action, get a ramp under your fingers and snoothen your touch while keeping your tone. While you do this, make sure you can hear every note as each one is as important as the other one.

    I hope this helps
    project_c likes this.
  8. Economy of motion. The movement of the fingers should be shorter as possible.
    gebass6 likes this.
  9. Subsound


    Feb 28, 2018
    I've been having this same issue. My thanks to everyone with suggestions.
  10. Skybone


    Jun 20, 2016
    Break the piece up into small chunks.
  11. jasmangan


    Jul 13, 2008
    +1 to learning how to listen to fast music; learning how to hear the individual notes so they are not just a blur. It helps to be able to sing the passage that you’re trying to breakdown.

    Edit: it’s a brick wall until you can internally slow it down.
    Bondobass likes this.
  12. Bondobass


    Mar 14, 2014
    Let me add something a teacher once said to me: "You need to to know the music so well that you could play it in your head, including seeing each finger move in your mind, as well as consciously knowing every note, every finger, every pick stroke - and, the ability to hear the music in your head as you do all this." And when I first heard this I felt overwhelmed to the point where I thought "how could I possibly?", well in reality, this IS the way the mind and body plays Guitar/Bass/Piano....whatever
    Jazzdogg likes this.
  13. 12BitSlab

    12BitSlab Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 28, 2016
    Liberty Township
    Don’t “dig in” when trying to play fast.

    Also, don’t “dig in” at any speed. Bad technique is the forerunner of bad playing.
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  14. kesslari

    kesslari Groovin' with the Fusion Cats Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2007
    Santa Cruz Mtns, California
    Lark in the Morning Instructional Videos; Audix Microphones
    Adam Nitti showed us a practice technique he uses to build speed.
    Set a tempo. Play the riff 3x at half speed (at tempo). Then play it once at tempo. Rinse and repeat.
    What you're doing is building more "reps" of playing it correctly, as well as playing it fast.
    Also (my addition) - before that one rep at tempo, "hear" the riff at tempo. I sing it. It helps me "get" how it needs to sound and feel at that speed.
    Think I'll go practice now - it's fun! :D
    AlexBorger likes this.
  15. Badwater


    Jan 12, 2017
    Speed in terms of fast if I understand. Everyone has limits on what they are mentally capable of doing. Where the mind goes the rest will follow. Once one reaches their limits, they must work harder to get very small gains. If the only goal is speed and fastness, push yourself to the limits, and beyond. It's like golf, once one reaches a limit, small gains can be made with a lot more work and effort. And to maintain the higher level takes just as much work. Age also has a lot to do with speed and precision. The older one gets it takes more work and effort to retain speed.
    Bondobass likes this.
  16. TuneSalad666

    TuneSalad666 Inactive

    Mar 1, 2018
  17. Loring

    Loring Supporting Member

    May 4, 2017
    Pretty substantial claim...

    There are so many faster and more musical players...
  18. Loring

    Loring Supporting Member

    May 4, 2017

    I've been using a tab program (the tabs are not usually correct as some computer has placed them based on notation - excessive arm motion for instance so I usually mentally transcribe them...) but what it does is play the song in midi at varying speeds from 10% up to 100%. I usually start at 50% and work up from there. It has helped me immensely trying to learn some John Myung stuff...

    I just loop the passage in question and play it until I can do that speed easily then up the tempo... eventually you get there. Some of the passages are too fast for me physically but playing them constantly for a week at 70% and I'm able to do 80% the following week. Builds the muscle facility to be able to do it. (both stamina and twitch speed).
  19. project_c


    May 8, 2008
    London, UK
    Thanks for the info. I think that's essentially the same technique. I pretty much do the same thing, except I either transcribe and use a click, or if the phrasing is weird I use an audio editor and time-stretch one bar at a time until I can play at the right tempo.

    Looks like the 'play slow and build from there' approach is the only one. It does work, but i'm still wondering if there's more to it. Economy of motion is definitely key.
  20. Loring

    Loring Supporting Member

    May 4, 2017
    Agreed and economy of motion sorts itself out with repetition and incremental speed changes. (Unless you have a technique issue that needs to ve fixed first)